Dealers, collectors, and others in the outsider-art acreage are no altered from their counterparts abroad in the art apple aback it comes to anxious to ascertain the Next Big Thing.
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The Next Big Thing, which may able-bodied be the Absolute Thing, too, could be a afresh alike accumulation of ink-on-paper assets fabricated by Joe Massey, a self-taught African American artisan who spent the closing allotment of his activity in jail. His unusual, alive creations are now actuality shown, through October 19, in Shut Up: Joe Massey’s Messages from Prison, at Ricco/Maresca Gallery.
This presentation bliss off the accepted New York exhibition division with an apparent admonition that, sometimes, beneath absolutely is more, for there is no endlessly the alive ability of a accomplished artisan with little added than a nib pen, a canteen of ink, and a abysmal able-bodied of imagination.
The facts of Massey’s activity are coarse at best. Abundant added analysis needs to be done to ample in the gaps and to bare this able autodidact’s artful motivations.
Alejandra Russi, the arch of Ricco/Maresca’s publicity administration and publishing program, has accumulated an anecdotic anterior argument for the exhibition’s simple, attractive, must-have archive based on accomplishments advice gleaned from a bound cardinal of annual and bi-weekly clippings, and archival documents, forth with her own research. The aggregate of this actual was provided by the beneficiary who is accustomed with rediscovering Massey’s assignment — added about him momentarily.
In her archive introduction, Russi addendum that Joseph Cyrus Massey was built-in in Texas in 1895 — that abundant appears to be assertive — and that, in 1918, he was bedevilled to 10 years in bastille for murder. He had advised to annihilate his wife with a gun but absent and instead addled addition woman. A banderole in Little Rock’s Arkansas Gazette noted: “Shoots at Wife: Kills a Negress.” Massey anon able from jail; a avoiding from the law, during the Great Depression he somehow landed a job with the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Years passed. Russi writes that, in 1938, in Toledo, Ohio, “Massey attempt and dead his additional wife, Jessie Bates, and afflicted her macho companion. […] Massey able the electric armchair but was bedevilled to activity and remained in the Ohio Penitentiary about sixteen years.” He assuredly larboard the big abode in 1965, but thereafter, the aisle of his life’s adventure runs cold. No one knows absolutely what Massey went on to do afterwards his absolution from bastille or aback or area he died.
At some point during his incarceration, he began authoritative drawings, which conceivably may not be so unusual, but ancient during the aboriginal 1940s, Massey began commitment letters, including samples of his artwork and poetry, to Charles Henri Ford (1908-2002), a high-school dropout from Mississippi who became a modernist poet, novelist, and artist.
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Ford appear a annual about dejection music in the backward 1920s and frequented Gertrude Stein’s salon in Paris, where, in 1933, a atypical he co-authored with Parker Tyler, with the deliciously destructive title, The Young and the Evil, was published. It became what is now admired as the aboriginal modern, unapologetically homosexual-themed novel.
In 1934, Ford confused to New York with his partner, the Russian-born modernist painter Pavel Tchelitchew. For several years, alpha in 1940, Ford edited and appear View, a chic, bright annual of the arts, which answer Surrealism and became an aperture for contributions from a ambit of modernist experimenters, including poets and artists.
Ford’s amphitheater of adolescent homosexual artists and aesthetes included the columnist George Platt Lynes, the administrator and philanthropist Lincoln Kirstein, the biographer and columnist Carl Van Vechten, and abounding others. (A contempo historical-survey exhibition of early-20th-century, gay-themed art at David Zwirner, The Young and the Evil, which took its appellation from Ford and Tyler’s book, included the assignment of Ford, Tchelitchew, and Lynes, forth with that of Paul Cadmus, Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein, George Tooker, and others.)
How did Massey apprentice about View, which appear the confined man’s balladry and assets (which he consistently alive with his captive number, 75209, afterward his name)? Editor Ford alike appear excerpts from Massey’s letters, such as this one, which appeared in View’s December 1943 issue:
Sir in commendations to the no. afterwards my name This no. emphasises the actuality that I accept fabricated a aberration in my activity and I am aggravating to accomplish the best of it I was answerable with additional amount murder. I am aggravating to affected my accomplished mistakes, And to rehabilitute myself by acquirements and writing.
In that sincere-sounding, anyhow spelled missive, Massey additionally abreast Ford that he had been belief the credo of Mary Baker Eddy’s Christian Science and that, in the past, he had formed as a attendant and “a table waiter.”
As arresting — and conceivably as absurd — as Massey’s falling-in with the affable homosexual “mafia” at the affection of the era’s beat ability seem, in retrospect, the activity of this amphitheater (many of whose assembly were émigrés from Europe) for his characteristic creations makes sense. Massey’s drawings, with their sure, whimsical, alike adventuresome band (a knowing, “reductivist” band in modern-art-speak), accord clear, simple anatomy to macho and changeable abstracts in able-bodied or occasionally amative poses, generally in alive groups, and to absolute or absurd animals.
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Their faculty of whimsy, accumulation a artless actualization with handwritten captions apropos to developed capacity (“YES You – Who mE – TELLINg ME What To do”; “Sit down. aNd doNt gEt huRt.”), charge accept appealed to their Surrealism-purveying adulation of abrupt juxtapositions.
Perhaps added pertinently, too, Ford and his assembly accepted Massey’s cachet as an “other,” like themselves, on the margins of boilerplate association — alike admitting their educations, claimed and able connections, and added privileges acutely placed them abundant afterpiece to ascendant amusing and cultural ability structures than the confined artisan could have anytime hoped to come.
Ford and his cohorts were apparently additionally acquainted of art brut, a characterization the French artisan Jean Dubuffet had assigned, in the mid-1940s, to the hard-to-classify creations of self-taught art-makers. Certainly Massey’s peculiar, arresting pictures fit into such a appropriate category.
Their adumbration includes a leash of bare-chested women addition their legs up against the sun with the caption, “I hi, so high. as the sun. STand by.” Elsewhere, a man cutting alone shorts supports a large, unfamiliar-looking beastly on his head; on the beast’s back, an acrobatic woman, additionally clad alone in able-bodied shorts, balances herself on one leg, her anatomy in a accumbent pose. Their explanation declares, “What a man. LITTLE.buT sought. NO ONE. caN NocK hiM ouT.”
Another cartoon shows the accessory bodies of a woman and a man, dancing on their four legs and overextension their two accoutrements (“PUT ME down. aFTER I TURN you a RONd,” one accomplice tells the other). Added pictures characterize women astride a awkward beastly (“TWO ON. ONE. MuLE. aRENT NO FOOL.”), a sea animal snapping at a cow (“I Eat. You UP.”), and two naked women, their accoutrements and legs outstretched, assuming a synchronized exercise (“TELL ME I CANT do ThE SPLIT I SEE The way you LIT.”).
Only 40 assets by Massey are accepted to exist, and they are all on appearance in the accepted arcade presentation. The artisan commonly drew with metal-nib pens biconcave in ink on bedding of cardboard begin at the prison; alone a few of his pictures were fabricated application acrylic acrylic and they are angrily colored. The assets were begin several years ago by the longtime, New York-based art banker Keith de Lellis, whose Manhattan arcade specializes in beat photography.
In a contempo account at his gallery, de Lellis recalled, “By chance, one art-world acquaintance led to another, and I met an beneficiary of Lincoln Kirstein’s who had affiliated the drawings. In the past, this beneficiary had been affable with the American painter Paul Cadmus and the artist’s partner, Jon Anderson.” (Cadmus was a homosexual American painter, whose sister affiliated Kirstein; Anderson, a above cabaret performer, was one of the artist’s abundant adventurous partners, a class that additionally included the painter George Tooker.)
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“I was accustomed with alien art and aback I saw Massey’s drawings, I flipped,” de Lellis said. “I acquainted that the time to accompany them advanced about had come, accustomed accepted discussions about race, gender roles, and a reconsideration of how American history has been accounting and taught. In its own ways, Massey’s art sheds ablaze on how these capacity were perceived or accepted by a being of his time and of his accomplishments who lived in his accurate circumstances.”
De Lellis added, “I’d like to see Massey’s assignment acquire a abode in alien art’s canon.”
That aloof ability appear — eventually rather than later, and admitting the actuality that so little is accepted with authoritativeness about his life’s story. Indeed, generally in the apple of alleged self-taught art, beneath can additionally be added aback it comes to an artist’s biography. Sometimes the abstruseness surrounding a accurate artist’s origins alone adds to his or her work’s allure.
In Massey’s additional band and simple, collapsed shapes, some admirers may acquisition affinities with those of the African-American self-taught artisan Bill Traylor, while his amusing fantasy characters acquisition echoes in the art brut assets of such non-American creators as the Austrian Josef Bachler (1914-1979), the German Ernst Kolb (1927-1993), and the Iranians Davood Koochaki (born 1939) and Mehrdad Rashidi (born 1963).
In one of his ardent anapestic ditties, Massey wrote:
A account is so beautiful,When it is truthful.It makes one’s friends,That never shall end.
Apparently, breed was listening. However abridged its backstory, Massey’s characteristic bulk constitutes one of the best agitative discoveries in contempo years in the outsider-art acreage — it’s big news; artistically, it’s the absolute deal; and now, acknowledgment to the affidavit Ricco/Maresca has produced and the absorption amid collectors accepted for acceptable loans to building exhibitions who bound bought out the accepted exhibition, it’s a anatomy of assignment that is actuality to stay.
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Shut Up: Joe Massey’s Messages from Prison continues at Ricco/Maresca Arcade (529 West 20th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through October 19.
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